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The Packer: Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops Releases Version 1.0

Tom Karst


Seeking to help growers measure five key resources on farms, the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops has released its first version of tools to support sustainability efforts in the specialty crops supply chain.

The initial suite of metrics include:

  • applied water use efficiency;
  • energy use;
  • nitrogen use;
  • phosphorus use; and
  • soil organic matter.

The overview of the metrics and technical notes are available at, according to a news release from the group.

Since the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops was founded in 2008, the group has developed, pilot-tested and refined metrics for water, energy, soil and nutrients and worked on metrics for diversity, greenhouse gas emissions and waste.

“We are very excited to have these out and ready for prime time,” said Kathy Means, vice president of public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association. “The metrics will always be evolving but we see these as ready to go now,” she said Sept. 24. Supportive of the effort since its beginning in 2008, Means said PMA serves on the steering committee and coordinating council of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops.

“This is the full supply chain working together,” Means said. “When businesses can use tools to reduce food waste and input waste everybody benefits, starting with the company that is going to see reduced costs by understanding the inputs better.”

Means said the measuring tools can be one common way for buyers to measure sustainability practices, and she said PMA will encourage that dialogue. For growers, the SISC metrics provide tools to help them become more efficient, she said.

Growers who use metrics to measure on-farm practices should consider the Stewardship Index metrics, Hank Giclas, senior vice president of Western Growers, and founding member of the Sebastapol, Calif.-based SISC, said in a news release.

The metrics are not meant to judge whether specific practices or performance levels as “sustainable,” but to give growers or buyers access to a data-driven measurement tool, according to the release.

“SISC lets growers measure stewardship for fertilizer, energy, soil and water without turning the farm into a full-blown academic research laboratory,” founding member Jonathan Kaplan, director, food and agriculture program, Natural Resources Defense Council, said in the release. “This group worked hard to maintain scientific integrity while ensuring that the metrics are practical for growers.”

The five metrics were adopted at a July 31 meeting of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops coordinating council, according to the release.

After receiving significant support from the Conservation Innovation Grant program administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops is now self-funded by coalition members and operating as a project of Ag Innovations Network, according to the release.